Why the Republicans Need a Good Shutdown

Ted CruzI’ve long wondered about the conservative addiction to shutting down the government. I get the fact that they hate the government, even though they are actually for bigger government than liberals. (They are remarkably good at defining as “government” only those things — usually the least expensive things — that they don’t like.) But given that shutting down the government always goes poorly for them, I’ve wondered why they continue to do it. In general, I’ve been of the opinion that they do it because they just can’t help themselves. It’s a form of irrational exuberance for them.

Jonathan Bernstein has a much more plausible theory, Ted Cruz’s Shutdown Trap — for Republicans. It’s brilliantly simple: the Republicans need to shut down the government in order to differentiate themselves. This folds perfectly into something I talk about a lot: the fact that the Republican Party at the Federal level is pretty much monolithic. The range of beliefs among Republican elites is extremely limited. So in order to differentiate themselves, they have to have events like a government shutdown where people like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will be shown to be RINOs just because they aren’t crazy.

Howard BealeMost of the Very Serious Pundits would have us believe that the Republican “establishment” beat the Tea Party elements into submission during this electoral cycle and that’s why the party did so well. But it has been apparent for a very long time that there really is no substantive difference between the two factions. In fact, that was always the hilarious (and terrifying) thing about the Tea Party. It was made up of a bunch of middle class people who were “mad as hell!” And their solution just happened to integrate perfectly with the interests of the elites. This is, interestingly, exactly what happened to Howard Beale in the film Network: the corporate elites were able to funnel his progressive rage into sad acquiescence about the fact that money is now God.

But just because the pundit class has been tricked into thinking that there is some huge divide in the Republican Party doesn’t mean that the party itself is fooled. Greg Sargent wrote about the plan yesterday morning, Ted Cruz’s Brilliant Strategy to Help Ted Cruz. Basically, there is no strategy and not even any thought as to what the end game will be. But Bernstein explained why this works out well for more than just Ted Cruz:

This, however, is perfect for the radicals, too. For them, it’s not about policy gains; it’s about being True Conservatives, which means constantly needing to differentiate themselves from the RINOs and squishes that make up the bulk of the Republican Party. The problem? There are no Rockefeller moderates or liberal Republicans remaining, and very few moderate conservatives, either. On ideal policy preferences, there just isn’t much separating Cruz from, say, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker or John Kasich or Bobby Jindal or even Mike Pence. So to maintain that True Conservative distinction, Cruz and other radicals must constantly find new and more difficult hoops for regular normal conservatives to fail to leap through.

I’m developing a new theory. As you may know, my Grand Unified Theory of How Everything Got So Messed Up is that the New Democrats pushed to the right and the Republicans had no place to go but crazy-town. But a corollary of this may be that when all the Republicans got bunched up at the “as extreme as you can get without being a Nazi” edge, the Republicans had to break out into areas beyond policy. Hence shooting copies of Obamacare. Hence national debt as slavery. Hence suing the president, impeaching the president, and shutting down the government.

This would all be funny as hell if there weren’t real impacts on millions of real lives. And what’s terrible is that although these kinds of stunts don’t necessarily work to help Republicans (although they often do), they never hurt them in the long run. People were angry about the Republicans shutting down the government a year ago. But by this November, they had forgotten about it and didn’t even show up to vote. Somehow, I’ve got to get past all this and just enjoy the show. Because it is coming. And soon.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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